Five weeks since Hamas attacked border communities in Israel with a savagery that shocked the world, Israel has carried out an intense bombardment of the Gaza strip in order to “crush and destroy” Hamas. A massive humanitarian crisis has unfolded in record time as a result.
Israel says it is targeting the underground tunnels of Hamas and continues to accuse the Islamist group of using civilians as human shields. Over 11,000 Palestinian lives have been lost to the bombing above ground, more than 4,500 of them children. This compares to 12,000 child deaths in the Syrian war over a span of 11 years.
Over 1.5 million residents of northern Gaza have moved to the southern half of the strip after Israel ordered them to evacuate as it prepared for the ground invasion now taking place. Some 45 per cent of buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. On 13 November, Gaza’s largest two hospitals said that they have stopped treating new patients due to lack of fuel and electricity. Several have been surrounded by fighting.
Israeli society, meanwhile, has been traumatised by the 7 October attacks, angered by the perceived failure of government, army and security forces to have seen the danger, and still awaits the release of around 240 people held hostage by Hamas and other groups. Negotiations involving Qatari intermediaries to secure their release are ongoing. Hopes were expressed last weekend for a release of some of the hostages in exchange for women and teenage prisoners held by Israel. Meanwhile, around a quarter of a million Israeli residents in communities bordering Gaza and Lebanon have moved to hotels or relatives for safety. The international community has been divided, with Israel’s western allies initially supporting its right to “self-defence”, though concerns over rising civilian casualties have led some to call for a ceasefire.
In the midst of the conflict, churches and their institutions have also become intended or accidental targets. Shelling caused severe damage to a new cancer ward at the Anglican Church-funded Al Ahli hospital, and an explosion in its courtyard, thought to have been caused by a misfired Gaza missile, killed almost 500 people sheltering there. The hospital continues to operate as best it can, however, and has been accepting patients from other besieged hospitals that have had to halt work. On 18 October an airstrike that hit St Porphyrius Church killed some 20 people. Over 500 have now moved to the nearby Holy Family Church. Another airstrike completely destroyed a Cultural Centre of the Orthodox Church that was opened just four years ago and where many had taken refuge.
Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have repeatedly condemned attacks on church properties as “shelters of last resort” and the World Council of Churches has called for an immediate ceasefire by both sides. The Evangelical Alliance of the Middle East and North Africa issued a lengthy statement recognising that its own churches had not previously responded adequately “to support just peacemaking” in the Holy Land. However, it called for the release of hostages and urged Christians everywhere to pray for an immediate end to the war.
Where will it end?
What will follow when the current war ends is hard to tell. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has ruled out Hamas rule, Israeli occupation, forced displacement of the Palestinians and any reduction of the Gaza strip. This was at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who spoke of Israel retaining long-term security control there. Away from Gaza itself, there has also been an alarming escalation of violence and forced displacement in the West Bank. Yet, without steps being taken towards a future in which Palestinians and Jews can both live in freedom and security in all parts of the Holy Land, it is hard to see an end to the cycle of violence.
In this time of fear and grief, SAT-7 is bringing a message of solidarity and hope. Our Arabic channel has been giving a voice to the local church and responding to people in the Holy Land who message our channels seeking prayer support. SAT-7’s live current affairs programme, You Are Not Alone, gave a platform this month for influential church leaders, commentators and mediators to discuss the key issues and promote the need for dialogue and peaceful resolutions. A Different Angle also gathered Christian leaders across the Middle East to add their voices to the calls for peace, justice, and reconciliation. In The Voice of the Church in the Midst of Hardship, a special two-hour live show jointly hosted by our Beirut and Cairo studies, messages of peace, unity and faith were broadcast across the region on SAT-7 ARABIC, Facebook Live, and YouTube. Please join us in praying for non-violent resolutions to this tragic conflict and for SAT-7’s response in the region to unite Christians to pray for stability and peace.
While all eyes are trained on the Holy Land, there has been no let-up in the seven-month conflict in Sudan. Despite US- and Saudi-brokered peace talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the struggle for control between the Sudanese Army Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) remains intense. The RSF is now dominant in much of the capital, Khartoum, and parts of Darfur. Distressing reports have come from Darfur of widespread killings, rapes and destruction of ethnic African villages, reminiscent of the conflict in 2003. The RSF has also seized Sudan’s second city, Nyala. Some 5.7 million people have been displaced since April and fears are growing for thousands who fled south of the capital to Gezira state, as fighting spreads there.
UNICEF has also voiced concern for the now 13.5 million children who are out of school and vulnerable to exploitation, child marriage or recruitment as fighters. One small sign of hope is that a pro-democracy coalition has been meeting in Ethiopia with a vision to restart the country’s transition to democracy. Please pray that this will somehow be realised.
An estimated 1.5 million Afghans were ordered to leave Pakistan at the end of last month. Tens of thousands fled their country when the Soviets invaded in the 1970s; others left after the 2001 US invasion to remove the Taliban; and an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 who fled the Taliban’s return in 2021. The decision excludes 2.2 million Afghans who have Pakistani approved residency but affects many who travelled to escape Taliban restrictions and violence. Pray for their safety.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee reminded Iran this month of its obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to provide religious freedom to all its citizens. The country only authorises churches for historic Christian minorities, outlawing any Persian-language services and underground house churches. Christian converts risk arrest, prosecution, job loss and long jail sentences. The committee said Iranians of all faiths should be able to “manifest [their] religion or belief without being penalised” and that members of non-recognised religious minorities must be “protected against harassment, discrimination and any other human rights violation”. It called for the release of all imprisoned for exercising their freedom of belief and for “adequate compensation”. Pray that Iranian authorities will heed these demands. Give thanks that SAT-7 programmes like Insiders continue to raise these issues and be an authentic Christian voice for viewers in Iran and the surrounding region.
Following February’s earthquakes in southeastern Türkiye, the country’s public housing agency embarked on a massive building programme. President Erdogan promised that 488,000 homes would be built within a year. The agency reported that over 132,000 earthquake-resistant homes were under construction by May. Using limited resources, the Turkish Church has also been playing a small part. In the worst-hit province of Hatay, the Orthodox Church allocated land and last month agreed contracts for 55 prefabricated homes in the coastal town of Arsuz and 20 more in Tokaçlı close to the Syrian border. Pray that as many people as possible will be in permanent or semi-permanent housing before the winter sets in.
The United Arab Emirates will host the latest UN climate talks in Dubai this month. In a year when many climate records have been broken, it is notable that COP 28 is being held in a country which is one of the world’s top oil producers. Its choice of president for the talks has also provoked criticism. Sultan Al-Jaber is head of the state oil company. However, he claims that in this role and as chairman of another company that is expanding wind and solar power, he is well placed to push for change.
Finally, football’s governing body announced that Morocco will be one of the hosts of the 2030 men’s World Cup. The North African country will jointly host the tournament along with Spain and Portugal, making Morocco the second MENA nation to welcome the competition after it was staged in Qatar last year. In 2022, Morocco became the first Arabic-speaking nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals. The Moroccan women’s team also performed well last year, reaching the last 16 in the women’s World Cup . SAT-7 is helping to give a voice to believers in North Africa this Christmas – look out for more details of our Christmas appeal on our website.